PBS President Talks Success and Tragedy
By Valerie Milano
Pasadena, CA (Hollywood Today) 1/14/13 – “It’s a smash hit,” says Paula Kerger, President of PBS, referring to Downton Abbey. According to Kerger, “An average audience of 7.9 million viewers tuned in for this season’s premiere, quadrupling the average PBS primetime rating and exceeding the average rating of the second season premiere of Downton Abbey by nearly 100 percent.”
Maggie Smith, one of the show’s stars, took home a Golden Globe Award, and Kerger praises the station’s awards-show successes, including 11 creative-arts primetime Emmy Awards, nine news and documentary awards, twelve Daytime Emmy Awards and a TCA award for Downton Abbey.
Discussing Bletchley Circle as the second scripted drama for PBS in the past year, Kerger says, “But because of the success of series like Downton Abbey, we’re hearing from a lot more people that are looking at public broadcasting, PBS, as a place for drama.
Kerger also addresses casting changes at Downton, saying, “Look, I think with any series that runs over a period of some years, you see characters that come in and out. I think characters do have an opportunity to do other things, actors have opportunity to do other things.” She continues, “And I think it gives an opportunity to bring in other characters and develop other storylines. So in the case of Downton, where you know that there are characters that have already left the series, so to speak, and you have the additions of new ones and the most notable, of course, is Shirley MacLaine, interested in your opinion of Shirley MacLaine’s debut, but I think it gives the writers an opportunity to explore new territory by having sort of fresh faces and fresh ideas as they work through.”
A few other highlights for PBS include Ken Burns’ project The Central Park Five, Latino Americans hosted by Benjamin Bratt, an autobiographical documentary of Stephen Hawking called A Brief History of Mine, and a follow up to December’s After Newtown special, which, according to Kerger, will “take an in depth look at some of the bigger issues brought to life by this tragic event.”
Further detailing this program, Kerger explains, “We’re always looking at where can public broadcasting add to national conversation. And so whenever anything like this occurs, we think about what is missing from the landscape.” She continues, “But I think from our perspective, what does this mean, and what should we be thinking about as a country as we make difficult decisions around issues like violence in the media or gun control or school security? So in the week of [February] 18th, we try to break it out into those various pieces and to look at the science behind mental illness and what do we know and how can that help inform some of the decisions we make. We try to understand the issues around gun control and the passionate feelings, both pro and con.”
Kerger adds, “So I think these are all things that we feel that we can contribute to the conversation. We can get the right experts around the issues to help frame it out. And then in the case of a project like this, we can also work with our stations, who are in every community in this country, to try to organize community discussions so that it’s not just a news feed that just goes out into the ether and is gone, but it actually becomes the information that communities can use as part of the discussions as they wrestle with these issues. So that’s where I think we are unique in this. And that you can’t turn around overnight. And I think that’s where some of the organizations have stumbled, is that in the rush to have information out there really quickly, they actually miss the story, or they certainly miss what are the important issues that we really should be focused on.”